Literature

Alice in Space (in Nature)

November 30, 2016
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Alice in Space (in Nature)

Gillian Beer wrote “History: Untangling Alice” for Nature, synthesizing some of the research from her book Alice In Space, which examines the Alice books by Lewis Carroll via the immediate context in which they landed: the 1860s, a decade rife with new languages and concepts drawn from scientific, linguistic, and educational developments. (Note: this book is so great!) In Beer’s words: When I started writing it more than a decade ago, I wondered how far intuition and familiarity with Victorian intellectual culture should take me in asserting Carroll’s participation in the ideas thronging around him. I had to rely on the Alice books for evidence of allusion and parodies. Now I have a fuller picture of how Carroll used fantasy to pursue thoughts — on radical mathematics and Boolean logic, for example — that he constrained in his professional life as a devout Euclidean. The Victorian culture within which the Alice books were written is largely invisible to us now. It was a period of immense intellectual upheaval in fields from mathematics to language theory, evolution and education. Carroll slips these ideas into the layers of his jokes, sliding infant puns above learned references. He had a teasing openness to the ideas being pursued by his contemporaries . . .

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Norte in the New York Times

November 21, 2016
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Norte in the New York Times

Praise from the New York Times Book Review for Edmundo Paz Soldán’s Norte, the story of three unconnected persons, some drawn from real life, who travel north of the US–Mexico border: This searing novel about three Latinos lost north of the border is not for the faint of heart. In the opening chapter, Jesús — based on a Mexican serial murderer known as the Railroad Killer — gang-rapes and stabs a prostitute. As Jesús, both victim and monster, slips into drugs, sexual abuse, psychosis, incest and necrophilia, Paz Soldán perfectly modulates the tension, evincing our sympathy even as we recoil. . . . “One should show compassion to all creatures scrabbling along their path in life, should be willing to throw a cloak of pity over the shoulders of even a man like Jesús,” the ranger leading the manhunt ponders. We don’t forgive, but we understand. This is the Bolivian-born Paz Soldán’s miraculous gift. With unflinching realism and steely grace, “Norte” reminds us why literature can do what journalism cannot: We inhabit the minds of people we’d prefer to forget. To read the New York Times Book Review piece in full, click here. To read more about Norte, click here. . . .

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Staff Profile: Levi Stahl on community and the Parker novels

November 16, 2016
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Staff Profile: Levi Stahl on community and the Parker novels

It’s #UPWeek, and you can read more about it here. The theme—for year 38, the 79th university of the AAUP—is community, and with that in mind, we asked associate marketing director Levi Stahl to talk a bit about a series of crime noir qua boilerplate mystery novels written by Donald E. Westlake, under the pseudonym Richard Stark, and  Stahl’s effort to tap into the community surrounding the cult novelist, an unusual move by a university press:             Reading is a solitary activity. That’s one of its glories.  But for a lot of us, it’s also just the first step. After reading, we want to tell people about what we’ve read, recommend it, discuss it, argue about it. And that’s where community begins. We experienced that, powerfully, back in 2008, when we decided to bring back into print Richard Stark’s crime novels featuring Parker the heister. We knew they were brilliant crime novels and that people over the years had loved them. What we learned very quickly, however, was that by bringing these back, we were joining the crime fiction community—and those are readers who aren’t shy about sharing their enthusiasm. The excitement, seen everywhere from . . .

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Ghosh and climate change in the Guardian

November 10, 2016
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Ghosh and climate change in the Guardian

Speaking of climate change. . . . Pankaj Mistra on Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement at the Guardian: How such “progress” changes the global environment is revealed, along with other true faces of easternisation, by Ghosh in his short but broad-ranging and consistently stimulating indictment of our era of the “great derangement”. It has been a time, he writes, when “most forms of art and literature were drawn into the modes of concealment that prevented people from recognising the realities of their plight.” Ghosh details the original damage inflicted by the west’s carbon-fuelled modes of economic and political imperialism. But it was, he adds, the “expanding industrialisation of Asia’s most populous nations, beginning in the 1980s, that brought the climate crisis to a head.” China’s carbon emissions per head of population have now surpassed the EU’s; India is not far behind. Briskly, Ghosh outlines the devastating consequences: the loss in India of “some of the country’s most fertile lands”; the disappearance of “many of the subcontinent’s low-lying islands, like the Lakshadweep chain”; the “migration of up to 50 million people in India and 75 million in Bangladesh”; not to mention that “if the glaciers continue to shrink at the present rate, the most . . .

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Scott Esposito and Edmundo Paz Soldán in BOMB

November 1, 2016
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Scott Esposito and Edmundo Paz Soldán in BOMB

From an interview between Scott Esposito and Edmundo Paz Soldán, the author of Norte, in the most recent issue of BOMB Magazine: SE: One of the valuable things about Norte is its outsider’s perspective on the United States—I think this is one of the unique things foreign literature can give us. How did you develop your knowledge of the border regions and your opinions on the US in general? EPS: I’ve lived in the US since 1988, in Alabama, California, Texas, and upstate New York. It took me a while to dare to set my novels in the US because I saw it as an overwhelming enterprise; this is such a huge country, and I didn’t know where to start, how to tackle it. I started to think of the US as more of a narrative space after being here for a decade and realizing that a new identity was emerging. I’m very interested in political issues and especially in how these issues affect Latin America and Latinos in the US; however, I try to differentiate between what I think and what my characters think, since I don’t want to write novels with a clear, didactic message. I went to El Paso and . . .

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Mark Goble on Bill Brown’s Other Things

October 21, 2016
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Mark Goble on Bill Brown’s Other Things

An excerpt from Mark Goble’s review of Bill Brown’s latest take on the literary and humanistic chops of material culture, Other Things, from the most recent issue of Modernism/Modernity: As a series of essays reflecting Brown’s own shifting intellectual commitments and the various objects that have patterned them, Other Things is structurally predisposed toward cases and examples. Every chapter in the book save one is parenthetically named for a writer or artist (from Woolf and Man Ray to Shawn Wong and Spike Lee) whose works occasion Brown’s more sweeping meditations on materiality and more. Yet Brown’s investment in the singular example is no mere consequence of how this book is engineered. He has a very sharp eye for things that can appear wonderfully “obtuse,” and Brown is especially insightful on the lump of glass at the center of Woolf’s “Solid Objects” or Man Ray’s creepy, all-observing metronome “Object to be Destroyed” (decorated with a photographic eye). Brown does brilliant labor excavating the historical situation of the English glass industry after World War One to give a rationale for Woolf’s material motivations, and engages Michael Fried to argue that a difference between “art” and “objecthood” is seriously hard to maintain both within a surrealist tradition, and within a book . . .

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Alice Kaplan on the (titular) history of Camus’s The Stranger

October 19, 2016
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Alice Kaplan on the (titular) history of Camus’s The Stranger

From a recent piece by Alice Kaplan for the Guardian, on the strange history of title decisions behind Albert Camus’s classic existential text, The Stranger, drawn from her recent critical biography of the book: Readers were never informed that the two titles were an accident, and for years, no one has been able to explain why Camus’s L’Étranger is sometimes The Stranger, sometimes The Outsider. And while political questions were not part of the original decision, the titles do resonate differently and lend themselves to conflicting political interpretations. An Algerian critic argued recently, in a review of Sandra Smith’s 2013 translation of L’Étranger, that the title The Outsider is politically scandalous, for it effaces the ambiguity in the French word “étranger” and substitutes a more banal idea of someone being “excluded”. He thought Smith’s 2013 title was new – not realising that the British have used it since 1946. In the end, I prefer The Stranger to The Outsider. Yet Meursault, the narrator of the novel, is not a foreigner; he is a Frenchman in colonial Algiers, a “petit colon”, and his strangeness is more like the strangeness of an outsider than the strangeness of an alien. So I question my own . . .

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RIP David Antin (1932–2016)

October 17, 2016
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RIP David Antin (1932–2016)

The University of Chicago Press published David Antin’s Radical Coherency: Selected Essays on Art and Literature, 1966 to 2005, in 2011. The book collected Antin’s singular talk pieces and lecture-performances, as well as a variety of critical takes on everything from his art world contemporaries to exhumations of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s minor philosophical asides. It was a big deal to me to get to work on the book and to exchange emails with David, and it’s certainly the only piece of marketing copy for which the work triggered my use of the phrase, “trademark antiformalist panache.” I’ll miss David, and talking with David—it was talking, after all, that was truly his medium, made all the more inimitable by the combination of a ceaseless curiosity and real sense of living in (and writing one’s self into) history. That said, rather than the usual series of formal obits (though you can read them here, and here, and also here), here’s a couple of remembrances from Antin’s friends, Charles Bernstein and Marjorie Perloff, another way of paying tribute to and honoring his conversations. From Charles Bernstein, at Jacket2: A great inspiration, radical model, dearest friend, and ever an iconoclast. David Antin was one of the great American . . .

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An excerpt from Mary Cappello’s Life Breaks In

October 6, 2016
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An excerpt from Mary Cappello’s Life Breaks In

From Mary Cappello’s Life Breaks In: A Mood Almanack, as excerpted at Berfrois: To have such mood-cloud experiences or vice versa is one thing; to make art from such encounters quite another. “We are the first generation to see the clouds from both sides,” Saul Bellow’s narrator remarks in his novel, Henderson the Rain King, “First people dreamed upward. Now they dream both upward and downward. This is bound to change something, somewhere.” Henderson is a many-times-married millionaire who has this thought as he’s purveying the clouds from the vantage point of an airplane on an ostensible pleasure trip: en route from the United States to Africa, he’s accompanying friends who are traveling there on their honeymoon. A kind of lost soul who feels guilty about his wealth and insulated from the truth of things, he wanders in search of a purpose trying to get in touch with the world—for example, getting really earthy, he tries pig farming, but that fails. “I like the idea of clouds from both sides and some other things from both sides,” singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell says after offering this préçis of Bellow’s character in her introduction to her 1967 performance of the song that she composed . . .

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Raves for Alice Kaplan’s Looking for The Stranger

September 26, 2016
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Raves for Alice Kaplan’s Looking for The Stranger

Alice Kaplan’s “biography” of Albert Camus’s existential cult classic, Looking for The Stranger, made quite the debut this past week. Drawing praise from across the web and the subject of hefty reviews in several major publications (this post doesn’t even include one from Le Monde and the book’s second profile by Publishers Weekly), Looking for The Stranger’s prescience stems in part from its subject’s applicability to contemporary conversations about race and class, and inpart from Kaplan’s ability to turn the standard biography on its head, focusing on the historical circumstances that allowed Camus to produce a mass-market paperback—despite personal turmoil, the threat of censorship, and publishing industry fallout—which went on to sell six-million copies to date, rather than tracing an overly-baked life narrative of the author. Kaplan’s abilities as a storyteller are often acclaimed, so nothing new there, but here follow some fresh critical lauds below! From John Williams at the New York Times: To this new project, Kaplan brings equally honed skills as a historian, literary critic, and biographer. . . . In an epilogue, Ms. Kaplan goes a step further and looks for the identity of the Arab involved in the real-life altercation that inspired the novel’s pivotal scene. What she learns about him . . .

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